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Hello! Still plugging away here!

September 10th, 2015 at 11:10 pm

The sun is the same in a relative way but I'm older.

Shorter of breath, and one day closer to debt!

Sorry, not much to say, but I had to say something!

About my only good financial thing is I have built a nice emergency fund, and continued with a 401k, but it just never feels like enough!

So what is new with you?

Four Days!

December 31st, 2014 at 11:01 pm

I read somewhere that people are serious about losing weight for only about four days at the beginning of the year! Of course I can't remember where or how credible the source was, but it seems like it could be true.

Anyway, a similar thing in relation to money brings me back here every new year, like the salmon returning to Capistrano. We lazy people are amazing!

So what has been happening here in personal financial blog land?

March 7th, 2014 at 01:23 am

I am one of the "zombie" posters who come and go, mostly go! So who amongst you are the longtime regulars? What keeps you going?

One of the things that keeps me away is financial denial. I just get so sick of dealing with money matters. But I was doing pretty well for a few years there! Maybe now that I've had a little break I will get re-enthused.

I've noticed that in all online forums. Many people come and go while a few regulars remain.

First week in my new job - so far so good!

January 22nd, 2012 at 05:06 pm

I just started a new job within the same company at another location, after the old location closed.

So far it is pretty nice. There are a lot of similarities with the old job but there is enough that is new and different to keep me well stimulated.

I got very lucky in that the first few problems I was assigned were right up my alley, so I was able to help and also help transfer some of my skills to other people to help them contribute. All in all, very satisfying.

The main downside is the distance - for now I am commuting a VERY long distance. I need to figure out how I am going to handle that.

On the finance side, I was able to keep a nice salary and benefits, but with the added commuting costs it is a minor net loss, especially when compared to how bad it could have been. So I need to cut costs NOW! Hence, I am back here! I am spending today cutting down my ever-present stack of mail! Two things I need to do immediately are refinance some CC debt to 0% and renegotiate my cable bill and get rid of my landline.

The economy finally caught up with my job. :(

October 29th, 2011 at 06:50 pm

The site I work at was recently shut down. Frown Oh well - we served each other well for over 30 years! A very nice run. A great job in a great location.

So I have to decide soon whether to take a severance package or stay with my company at another location. Although the severance package is over a year's pay, I hope to stay with the company at the closest location, 95 miles from my house. I really don't want to move.

So now I am looking at a 2 hour commute, or the added expenses of an apartment to crash in on weeknights.

Just typing this makes me wonder why I don't just move to one of the other 10 or so locations throughout the country, or take the package and then do that with other companies. But the company's pay and benefits are very good, and with over 30 years of time with them, I get a lot of vacation and good pay.

Anyway, I need to blog here more than a handful of times per year!

Hi everyone! It's been a long time!

July 3rd, 2011 at 01:08 pm

I didn't realize I haven't posted since last October! I've been busy goofing off, so this is my periodic return to trying to be responsible. Not that blogging here is being responsible, but just by spending time here you good people always put me on the right track.

And Sunday mornings are when I always seem to gravitate here. But I have to admit I would be riding my bike if the roads were dry!

Anyway, I am back for a while! Smile

A beautiful vacation day on tap! Plus, Adblock is nice!

October 26th, 2010 at 12:04 pm

So I am spending a little time here first thing just to get in the frugal frame of mind. My main goal for today is to recover the garage for my car by organizing all the junk stored therein before the first frost, so today it is!

I just searched my blog for "About Me" and I successfully found when I asked about the data in that section missing, and I found that Kimiko told me it was Adblock in Firefox, so I just disabled the Adblock filter ###ad_left and the data returned. Searching really is a boon for us people with old-timer's disease! And I love Adblock, so this one little quirk is easy to take.

OK, the dog needs a walk, so we're off!

So has anyone else here moved from Quickenonline to Mint?

September 1st, 2010 at 01:26 am

I have and it looks pretty similar. It makes some pretty stupid extrapolations from data it gets.

Are shortcuts really inherently bad? Why do they have such a bad reputation?

August 29th, 2010 at 12:28 pm

What do you think of when you hear the word "shortcut"? Is it a negative or positive thought?

I think I most often hear it in business situations like this: "he tried to shortcut it, and now it's all messed up". I guess there is some merit in that way of looking at it since business needs to be pretty proceduralized and we can't have people just winging it because they think they know better than the official procedure. But the flip side of that is good procedures evolve from good input, and my thought is that when that doesn't happen people get frustrated and try to "shortcut" it. But if you take "shotcut it" to mean "improve" it, and they go about it the right way by providing useful feedback to the procedure owner, and the owner then adds it and gets it properly reviewed and approved to assure that there are no unintended ill-effects, the net result should without fail be positive.

So all that said, I am a BIG fan of shortcuts. So in an effort to improve them so we can make greater use of them, shouldn't we take a look at their failings? I'll use the common computer example of browser shortcuts since that is easy for all of us to relate to which makes it very illustrative.

Some common failings of browser shortcuts:
1. Too many to quickly read through to find what you want.
2. Out of date or dead links.
3. Forgotten.
4. No longer of interest.
5. Other? Let's hear 'em!

So what tips or tricks do you have for maintaining good browser Bookmarks/Favorites, Whatever?

At work, I have a pretty deeply nested and hierarchical list that serves me well. It is pretty darn big list that has developed over the years, so of course it benefits greatly from a periodic (and it can be infrequent, like once a year or so) cleanup to remove dead links, defragment, repack, etc. I just recently did that and now it works MUCH better for me. The main thing was to re-alphabetize, where the need results from my bad habit of ad-hoc addition of new ones at the bottom of the list instead of taking the few seconds to find the proper category. Just the act of thinking about it how it fits in helps keep me organized.

I have yet to have a similar success at home. But one trick I use everywhere that has also helped at home is to create digital "junk drawers" or "Little Used" folders to hold stuff that I might have looked at once and then didn't have a regular need for. Of course it is good to sift through them once in a while also to make sure something doesn't get forgotten.

So what are you tips and tricks? Something elaborate like Del.ico.ocious (what ever the heck that is)?

Or something more simple? In the extreme case, I recently heard of someone who simply deleted ALL of his shortcuts because what the heck, everything is just a quick Google away anyway, so why not? Although I doubt many of us would go that far, I think that keeping them well organized would go a long way in preventing the urge to nuke your shortcuts like that.

So FINALLY, I have stopped my verbose outpouring and it is your turn to comment, dear readers, if any of you have persevered this far. Smile

Creativity and simplicity

August 7th, 2010 at 01:57 pm

I am starting to read the book Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly and I like it right from the start. He is a psychology professor at the University of Chicago. One of his early points in the book is that there are many things competing for your attention, so if you really want to have a chance at being creative it helps to cut down all the noise around you. And creative people can be so wound up in their ideas that they can appear isolated and unfriendly, when actually they are just preoccupied, like the stereotypical absent minded professor (maybe a little projection on his part)? Smile

I thought I would get this down here since it is one of my main ideas in life and one of my main pet peeves, that as an advanced society we seem to have to spend way too much time on mundane or overly complicated stuff. Take computers, for instance. Computers can be wonderful tools, but also maddening nuisances! And I am convinced that there is SOMETHING I can do to help this situation since it is a field rife with opportunity.

Anyway, that's all for now, but I'll probably bore you with ideas from this book all along until I finish it. Smile

OK, I am now an official David Allen Getting Things Done fanboy!

August 3rd, 2010 at 11:29 pm

This post is dedicated to Homebody. Smile

After reading GTD about twelvedy-fifteen times, I think it FINALLY sunk in! I think the defining moment was when I realized that I could use my cell phone's Notepad to jot down notes of things that flit across my mind. (previously they just flitted right on through!) An age old principle, to write things down, but one I was never able to fully follow until now. It's hard to carry a pen or pencil and paper everywhere, but it sure is easy to carry a cell phone!

I have been keeping lists at work for years with pretty good results, but I only recently dumped out my work email inbox and it feels great! So I also dumped out my personal email inbox, although I did just stuff it all in a big folder called "limbo". The defining moment for that one was when I missed an ebay sale because my inbox was so full of crap that I avoided it like the plague and missed multiple mails. But I went in and unsubscribed to all the junk mail lists I was on (I think my ISP screwed up and has multiple people with my email address, hard as that is to believe). That one is a lot harder to keep empty even than work because it still gets so much junk, but so far I am stemming the tide.

So anyway, I also use a very cool Linux program at home called Tomboy Notes for my monthly log of things to do, things done, etc. I love it because it works just like Wikipedia or the WWW with hypertext. If you type a word that you already have a page for, it automagically creates a link. The resultant web very nicely mirrors the way I think. Smile For both of these simple new tools, it helps a lot that I enjoy using them, since if it is fun I will stick with it.

So anyway, I am flush with success after finally checking a few things off. It is especially satisfying to fit something fairly major into a small time window. For instance, I was able to change oil in our car in an hour between events because I had everything ready, and I was tired of looking at it on my list. Another example - I finally remembered to get a USB stick to back up those Tomboy notes and I actually did it - something that I had been putting off for months. A lot of the magic is in breaking tasks up into their smallest element, that is making sure the "next action" is really a doable action and not more of a project, which is a series of next actions.

I am excited because this is the closest I have come to breaking the procrastination and slovenly practices habit in ages! Yes, I still have a LOOONG way to go, but even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

I FINALLY got my snail mail inbox to zero

July 26th, 2010 at 02:04 am

What a relief! I may as well go ahead and admit this - I found $1000 of Flexible Spending checks in there. I guess I thought they were just EOB forms. BAD Ralph! I am such a dweeb! Anyway, it took almost all day, but it was a good way to hang out in the AC and get some long overdue work done.

So now I am ready for the long haul, to KEEP the darn thing at zero. I do of course still have a "hold" bin, but at least now I know there is nothing but filing and low priority stuff in there. Of course my files also filled up again, so I expanded into another plastic container, and man, is it ever nice to have a working file system again. Up until today, I stacked the overflow on TOP of the main set of folders, so it was too painful to move the stuff to file. Now it is all clear and ready to use.

I got in the mood because I cleaned up at work Friday and that also felt great. And that was prompted by my memory of a guy at work asking for something, and as I pulled it out of one of my slovenly desk stacks, he asked - "I wonder what else is in there?".

A word to the wise... Smile

Shelf life - it is important!

July 5th, 2010 at 06:13 pm

I had sort of an epiphany today as I was cleaning up some old grapes after being away for a while. Just about everything has a shelf life, and it can be very costly to ignore that fact. In an ideal world, we would review everything at an appropriate interval to ensure that it is still good. Sounds easy, right? But as refrigerators everywhere can attest, it certainly isn't!

The problem for me is that it can get quite tedious. Checking the garden for the need for watering, for instance.

I'm guessing there is no easy answer! But I suspect it is like exercise - you need discipline, and it has to be fun. Any ideas?

Oh, and here is a good example where knowledge is power in this area.
http://www.stilltasty.com/questions/index/7/page:1

And that site also makes a very good point - on some products, even a use by date is just for taste reasons, seldom safety. But sometimes it is! This area needs work. My suggestion (and I am serious here) is a "use by or get sick or die date". But realistically, if we just standardized on "Best By" dates for non-safety, we could restrict "Use by" strictly to safety issues, like milk. etc.

I'm TRYING to get more organized!

January 30th, 2010 at 09:30 pm

I admit it - email and postal mail have had me overwhelmed for far too long. The problems are remarkably similar. A constant steady flow pours in, and I always left it in the inbox, while attempting to pull out and deal with the important stuff. Slack off a few days though...

So there mixed with spam and junk mail in an ever expanding mountain lay very important notices about important financial matters with close deadlines.

At work I have been quite happy with keeping a clean inbox for about a week now. I have read David Allen's Getting Things Done book quite a few times now, and probably one of the most important things he says is to trust your filing system enough to depend on it, and the only way that happens is with regular reviews. To that end, there is a very nice program for my Linux PC called Tomboy Notes. It is hyper text based so it is pretty easy to review. I have had a huge Word file at work for years now where I keep notes on day to day things in as organized fashion as I know how. So when I use it, I review it. So I hope to do the same at home with Tomboy Notes now.

Anyway, thanks for listening. I like to document things as I go along, since it helps me think. Of course it MAY also be a form of procrastination, eh?

I finally got to Inbox Zero! And it wasn't easy!

January 14th, 2010 at 11:01 am

I had over 500 items in my work Inbox - the emails had just piled in over the end of last year when I was quite busy and then out for a lot of vacation. But I've always kept my backlog there, even though I created a HOLD folder years ago, but I never really warmed up to it to the point where I used it properly. So I weeded the Inbox down to about 200 and then stuffed them in a HOLD folder, and I created a new one, HOLD - Time Critical! Check every day! We'll see if I follow through.

I have to admit, it is quite weird to see a blank Inbox! BTW, I got the term Inbox Zero I think from Lifehacker, a collection of small tips like this.

And in other organizational news, I got one of our cars inspected a full month and a half before the due date, and as expected, the line was nil! I may beat this procrastination thing yet! I also nipped at my bill/filing mountain and whittled it down a tad, and I did a similar cleanup at work, where it was even more sorely needed. Clean and organized, even semi-clean and semi-organized, feels great!

Procrastination...is making me wait.

January 10th, 2010 at 04:51 pm

I REALLY need to lick my procrastination problem this year. So how about some good suggestions from you people?

It is so true - the payoff from procrastination is immediate and always good. But the payoff for hard work is delayed and not quite as certain. I do get immediate payoff from simple but critical tasks completed, ESPECIALLY when completed early, but still I find myself avoiding them. And as for the hard tasks...don't ask!

I came here because I realized by far my favorite mode of procrastination was the Internet, and at least here I can hopefully use the Internet productively.

OK, off to do some work for a while! Smile

Hey, where did all the "About Me" stuff go?

September 12th, 2009 at 05:24 pm

I haven't been here for a few weeks and it looks like there's been a somewhat big change. The place seems more boring and generic now without all those pics and background info. So did we have some kind of online stalker or security breach or something?

I have been just hanging in by my toenails financially lately. I've been walloped by several big unexpected bills all at once. I need some kind of break! To top it off some kind of wrist injury is keeping me off my bike, which is my stress reducer and main form of exercise. I guess I need to step up the dog walking in its stead! Anyway, I hope the rest of you are doing better than me!

Man, graduation/birthday season is expensive!

June 9th, 2009 at 12:01 am

It seems like April/May/June are pretty darn expensive months! If it isn't graduations, it's birthdays. OK, that's my poor excuse for a post for June. Smile I guess I'll go update my Goals pages.

Help me decide whether I should get my daughter a car!

May 3rd, 2009 at 05:08 pm

OK, for the hardcore here, I'm sure that the correct answer is no, since I do not have the money. Case closed!

So if we go with that, do we be really mean and make a senior ride the bus to school, or more realistically, have her mom take her as in the last two years since the bus leaves WAY earlier.

One big problem is that the darn high school parking lot is like a demolition derby for not just door dings, but MAJOR door dents! They just about ruined the beautiful 2002 Accord my older daughter took there her senior year.

The killer for me is I am a cheap car guy (yes, I know, definitely an oxymoron, especially with insurance and repairs). So one of my favorite things in the world is to get a nice old fully depreciated Honda for her to drive. The killer is the insurance. Ouch! But I'm still thinking of a REALLY cheap car with only liability. Help me decide!

Another quick update

April 21st, 2009 at 12:47 am

It feels great to have the taxes behind me. But I've been slacking on maintaining focus to pay down debt and keep up with paperwork. I have unfortunatley noticed a pretty big uptick in family spending with the nice weather - it seems every trip is a $100 trip if you include a meal out!

I sure intend to get back here soon with some more meaningful posts - see you, and keep saving!

A quick entry amid the tax frenzy

April 11th, 2009 at 07:16 pm

I'm finding a few nice things that are combining to give me a decent refund this year. We were able to get a decent education deduction, and at least a piece of the child tax credit for my daughter's last year of eligibility. And we're finally getting the $300 recovery rebate for her that I missed last year because of the careless mistake of omitting her SS number on the return. And next year I'll have to pay some college loan interest to take advantage of the deduction up to $2500.

My bottom financial line is still way too much debt and expenses. Argghhh!!!

I'm still here! To catch up, some minor stuff..

March 15th, 2009 at 10:31 pm

I just got my FAFSA in under the wire for today's deadline for my daughter's college.

I wanted to get the taxes done first, but TurboTax is acting funny. I think I need to reset it and start over, since it doesn't seem to have picked up my state withholding so it's telling me that the standard deduction is better, and I KNOW that ain't right! I always filed manually, but since Vanguard allows you to at least use TurboTax, I found that it is good for finding college deductions. But it also has my state wages at TWICE what they should be. Hmmm...

The good news is that it seems the IRS is ready to pay bozos like me who somehow missed last year's stimulus payments. I somehow omitted my two daughter's SS #s on the return, so we missed their stimulus payments.

In other news, I almost killed my car by letting the oil get low. I think it's consumption may be getting high prematurely, at a young 150,000 miles!

Anyway, I stayed away too long!

The Winter Savings Effect

February 19th, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Has anyone else noticed that it is MUCH easier to save in the winter than in the other seasons? I think it is because cocooning is so darn cheap. I know with my wife and kids, if they are out somewhere, they are spending money. So the only time I ever come close to catching up is January through April - unfortunately a very short season.

So what is the Ideal Budget?

February 17th, 2009 at 12:20 am

Does it look like this, the top Google hit?

http://7million7years.com/2008/08/29/ideal-budget-allocation/

In lieu of anything else, it looks pretty close to me. I'd like to post my actual numbers next to it for a critique from you people, hopefully I'll have that ready in a few days. What I do know is mine is far from that! Oh, housing is dead on, but debt service is a TAD higher. Arghh.

So the numbers in descending order are :
Housing 30%
Transportation 14%
Food 12%
Entertainment/Recreation 7%
Clothing 6%
Misc. 6%
Debt 5%
Savings 5%
Investments 5%
Insurance 5%
Medical/Dental 5%
Total 100%

Some difficulties with quicken online are slowing me down, but luckily I found the help forums, and a fix for the problem I am having is due in February. In the meantime I'll probably just resort to Excel.

Man, budgeting is a bear!

February 15th, 2009 at 05:02 pm

The good news is that Quickenonline FINALLY co-operated in accepting the CC data from my CU. I re-entered the login data and it finally started working, so now I have four months of CC data to work with. So it will pick up things like periodic charges for bridge tolls (it stinks having to commute over a toll bridge!) and anything else that goes on the CC and needs to be budgeted.

I guess it isn't telling me anything that I didn't already know, that our excess spending is manifested in a rising CC balance over the last six months or so. The trick I guess is annualizing things like auto maintenance and Christmas expenses.

And I have basically stopped using the CC, converting to cash for the occasional dining out so that I feel the pain, and it works! But my wife has not slowed down as much as I had thought. Arggghhh!!

Oh well, back at it.

Better to go Cold Turkey When Cutting Spending?

February 14th, 2009 at 07:56 pm

A quote that really stuck with me from the TV series that I just discovered called "Maxed Out" was a woman saying it was easier to just stop spending money than to try to just cut back. This was in reference to eating out. Makes sense, sort of like alcoholism, you have to stop, not just slow down!

But realistically, severely scaling back can be a great feeling. Then it feels just wonderful to splurge once in a great while on very small things. It seems more special when it is unusual. The habit of eating out all the time drives me bonkers - what a waste of money!

We've still got a long way to go, and it is very hard for me because it's indirect, in that I'm trying to control my family's spending, although I still take challenge in making my frugal ways even more frugal. What I've realized is that my accounting sucks. It's not a be all and end all to know where the money is flying away, but it is a necessary first step to getting control and setting a realistic budget. It gives me a common language to use with them, like "we did very well on eating out last month, so we can go out once this month, etc." If it all just gets sucked up into the big black hole of debt, it's much harder to visualize. I think that is what most of America has lost with Credit Cards, that necessity of give and take to balance things out. It's like a cultural collective madness - I'm sure most people just follow the crowd, most of who can't afford to go out all the time either. That's why I've always appreciated the viewpoint of depression era people - they know the deal.

Who here watches Maxed Out on Style Network?

February 13th, 2009 at 07:51 pm

And yes, I realize that sounds silly and hypocritical coming from someone who shouldn't even have cable. I've made many a tarry in that battle over many years and I've always been forced back. Just one more example of how my preferred monkish lifestyle is at odds with a family. I have to rationalize it (for now) by remembering that we spend VERY little else on entertainment.

ANYWAY, I've been sick lately and I ran across the Maxed Out series on Lifestyle network on daytime TV. I only saw the one yesterday about two 30ish single women who made the smart choice to share a condo, but they were each in deep debt due mainly to maintaining a single urban lifestyle, with WAY too much eating out. So besides slashing expenses, the counseler lady insisted that they sell or refinance their condo - they went for a refi. This was a little surprising since you usually hear not to do that, to pay off consumer debt with home equity. So I think I am in a similar situation. So far I THINK I can make the payments without doing that, but it is getting way too close for comfort.

So I will concentrate on analyzing expenses - both women were SHOCKED that they were grossly overspending. I'm not quite in that much denial, but there is some fog as to exactly how much we are overspending, so that is job two, right after stopping the bleeding from excess interest charges.

Anyway, it's a good show, and it just emphasizes to me what a constant battle it is to keep debt from encroaching if you don't make a serious and concerted effort to prevent that from happening. I think it is a little worse these days when costs are rising much faster than income, but it has always been a battle. I remember when I grew up, eating out was just not done, we just couldn't afford it. And now it is WAY too routine.

OK, I'm building a budget using Quickenonline

January 25th, 2009 at 06:20 pm

Does anyone else here us that? We need to form a user's group if so! I signed up for it last year when it was $3 per month, intending to most likely cancel after the free trial, and then thankfully before I did they made it free! Nice! But it is pretty basic, and I see they've recently made some changes. I remember the old Windows 3.1 version was awesome, everywhere you clicked you could get a subtotal or a graph - really cool! So this online version is not so good in comparison, but I don't want to spring for the regular version just quite yet. So anyway...

It does well with the checking account from my CU. But it can't deal with the Mastercard account from that same CU. I've emailed problem reports to Quicken to no avail, so for now I am stuck with just the checking account, but that's ok, it's the lion's share of transactions anyway.

Job one is to clean up the categories. It is now doing better it seems on automatically categorizing transactions that clear electronically, but the smaller payees like doctors and so forth still need to be manually entered. And bafflingly, it guessed wrong on a few electronically cleared ones, so I wound up with a newspaper bill for $165 this month, but it was really Macy's. Weird! It is consistent though, always calling Macy's the newspaper, so it's easily manually fixed.

What I need to figure out is it says we are overspending by about 20% per month. We may be, but only on one CC, not the bank account, that stays positive with no infusions of cash, so I have to get to the bottom of that right after I finish categorizing to give me more clues.

This is sort of fun in a tedious way. But I can see right now that the four month trend of category spending should be very helpful. November and December spending is off the charts as usual. Frown

Ack!! I am now paying almost $20 per day in CC interest! I'm bleeding!

January 24th, 2009 at 12:25 am

On what used to be at 0% and 2%. Soo, my choices at this point are:
1. Withdraw from savings, take a huge tax hit and likely some penalty.
2. Keep desperately trying to refinance somewhere below 12%.
3. HELOC.
4. Remortgage. I think I have about 6 years left at 5.75%. I have plenty of equity but it makes me sick to even think of doing this.
5. Pay big bucks to get a financial planner who specializes in disaster recovery!
6. Run away to Brazil.

And of course continue to squeeze the budget, but it takes time to squeeze out this kind of dough.

Do you suffer from "dual-income" envy?

January 22nd, 2009 at 05:27 pm

I sure do! It all started when I was in my early 20s looking to buy a house, but the starter housing market in my area was VERY hot in the early to mid-80s as interest rates were dropping from terrible highs. Anyway, I kept getting outbid for houses. I blamed the ability of those in dual-income marriages to bid more for my inability to buy a house.

And now years later, when I hear people talking about "banking my wife's paycheck", it almost makes me physically ill! I realize it is a trade-off, and that my kids probably benefitted greatly from a stay-at-home Mom, but now that they are over 16, money would be of more use.

Anyway, I guess I have to get over it! I just wanted to see if any other single income families are feeling the heat like I am!


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